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Guinea-Bissau junta negotiates with opposition

Doubts were growing Sunday as to whether Guinea-Bissau’s army chief-of-staff really had been overthrown, as leaders of last week’s coup negotiated with opposition leaders over a “unity” government.

The opposition vowed Sunday to quickly reach a power-sharing deal with the junta that seized power in Thursday’s coup, which derailed the country’s presidential election in the run-up to the second-round run-off.

“In any case there will be a solution before the arrival Monday of the ECOWAS delegation” — the west African bloc that is due to mediate the conflict, said Fernando Vaz, a spokesman for the opposition parties negotiating with the junta.

“We have two proposals to present to the military. One is constitutional, and the other is for a radical change,” Vaz said ahead of the talks, without elaborating.

But as around 10 opposition parties held a third day of talks with the junta in the capital Bissau, some observers were expressing doubts that General Antonio Indjai really had been one of the victims of the coup.

Already Saturday, Mamadou Djalo Pires, foreign minister of the ousted government, had dismissed as a “farce” a claim from the self-styled military command that they had deposed Indjai.

Speaking from Lisbon at a meeting of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), Pires accused Indjai of being behind the coup.

Some observers in Bissau saw Indjai’s apparent downfall as a ruse that he had come up with, so as to appear to be a victim of the coup rather than the person behind it, particularly since Angola had threatened to report putschists to the International Criminal Court.

The new self-styled military command under the army vice chief of staff, Mamadu Ture Kuruma, on Friday offered parties a role in a “unity government” in which the junta would keep the defence and interior portfolios.

But the new regime would exclude the toppled African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which has led the country for almost 10 years, raising fears for the fate of the party’s leaders who the junta claimed to be holding.

The ruling junta said that they hold election front runner Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who had been the favourite to win the second round of the presidential election.

It also claimed to have detained President Raimundo Pereira and other members of the toppled government, insisting that they were all well despite growing concern for their well-being.

The junta justified its coup by claiming that there had been a “secret deal” with Angola to undermine the army. It also announced Saturday an accord with Angola on the departure of its 200 soldiers stationed in Bissau.

But on Sunday, Angolan sources in Bissau said no transport has been sent from Luanda to repatriate the troops and that ECOWAS was rather hoping that their mission would be extended.

On Sunday, former colonial leader Portugal said two navy ships and a plane were on the way to West Africa to prepare for any eventual repatriation of Portuguese nationals from Guinea-Bissau.

“The decision to launch this evacuation operation has not been taken at this point,” said a defence ministry spokesman Nuno Maia.

According to Lisbon, between 4,000 and 5,000 Portuguese are currently in Guinea-Bissau.

Since independence in 1974, Guinea-Bissau’s army and state have remained in constant conflict, and no president has ever completed a full term in office. Three have been overthrown and one was assassinated.

The internationally condemned coup came just ahead of the April 29 run-off, which opposition candidates, including ex-president Kumba Yala who would have faced Gomes in the second round, had said they would boycott due to alleged fraud in the first round.

The election came two months after the death of ailing president Malam Bacai Sanha.

The tiny country with a multitude of islands has become a major transit point for cocaine from Latin America to Europe, and Washington has accused some senior military figures of involvement in the illicit trade.